I talk to a lot of people on a weekly basis about food, nutrition, fitness and more often than not, weight loss (or their bowel movements- but we wont go there). And the first thing to know is there are many ways to skin a cat when it comes to all these topics, however some are more healthful than others. But what I really want to be talking to more people about is stress, sleep and their role in weight loss or lack there of. Because in my eyes this is the third axis which is often missed when people are trying to lose weight.
I will often see clients who have pristine diets, train like an beast and come to me searching for answers on why they haven't even shifted an ounce. The usual approach I see is: slam yourself at the gym and ask your body to do this on very little food. And this works- to a point. But the stitches start to come undone when:
a. They begin to start hating training (over-training)
b. They would rather gnaw there arm off than eat another meal of chicken, brown rice and broccoli
c. They miss the social interaction involved around food which they have been skimping on while following a long term restrictive diet.
d. The results they were getting initially have either slowed right down, or have stopped completely
e. They have been so strict on diet for so long that they are involved in a binge eating/under eating cycle with massive amounts of guilt and confusion thrown in for good measure.
At this point I have this great picture I draw for people (when I say great, I mean it's pretty much a stick picture, but it does the trick). Its a triangle with exercise, sleep and diet as the three sides. You see you can have you diet down pat, and be training on a regular basis but without adequate sleep and rest, there are still gaps to fill in your plan.
Here are the main reasons why this is the case:
- Poor sleep leads to lowered self control. We have so many 'treats' to resist in a day, on top of all the other more pertinent things we have to think about- family, work etc- that when that $1 Freddo creeps into your peripheral vision, you are more likely to snap and bite its head off after a late night, then if you had adequate rest. One study showed that even one night of poor sleep could increase appetite in a young sample group.
- Chronic stress is bad news, on a number of fronts. Stress isn't just the psychological stuff, which is concerning in its own right. Stress is really any kind of response produced by our body is response to an internal or external stimulus. Insomnia, chronic illness, under eating, over training- all common issues which can be counted towards your blood pressure levels rising. When we are chronically stressed there are a number of things which might be going on that gear you towards storing fat including raised blood glucose levels, reduced insulin sensitivity, comfort eating, lowered immune function, increased belly fat and inflammation within out body. ie we have a one way ticket to fat accumulation.
- Restricted diet, and the associated behavioural restraint associated, has been shown to raise cortisol levels (stress hormone) because constantly thinking about food is stressful! This which could in turn lead to weight gain- ironic.
- Our brain is always monitoring what going on in our body. Its pretty much santa- it knows when you are sleeping it knows when you're awake, it knows when you ate that cake etc. It also knows when you have fat to more or energy to store. The hormone leptin is secreted by fat tissue (adipose tissue) and its main role is to let you know you are full. There is 'set point' theory which says that we all have an optimal weight and if we move above of below it, our body will make the necessary changes to get back to that optimal point. This means if we out on weight, leptin is secreted and we lose our appetite, and if we lose weight leptin is turned off and the 'hungry hippo' hormone grehlin gets switch on and we are cued to eat more. Its unclear how long it takes to reset this set point, but some research indicates about a year before hormone levels become reaccustomed to the new weight. There is a growing body of research which shows that disrupted sleep patterns can cause issues with our leptin/grehlin regulation.
- Stress can affect our gut. This includes altered gut bacteria to increased permeability and IBS symptoms. New research is showing a strong link between altered gut flora and obesity, and is an area of research which is set to give a lot more insight into our current obesity epidemic.
The problem with my suggesting rest and stress reduction is it is not all that visible, it's not instantaneous and you can't hold it. I can't write you a preseciption for sleep...well I could, but then I am the crazy one. I also hear a lot of reasons why more rest/less stress is simply not possible. I get it. Life is one crazy mofo, but if long term health, disease prevention, weight loss and sanity are all on your to-do list, you are not going to get results until you restructure. If you watch more than an hour of TV per day, spend more than 30 minutes on face book, complain/worry about your weight or how stressed you are more often than you speak positively about life, then you need to make change.
Here are some hot tips to making these changes:
- Sleep more- it's free and it feels good.
- Ask for help. It's there, you just have to take it
- Turn off your screens, they interrupt your bodies natural sleep cycle
- Hang out with people you like and who make you laugh
- Exercise as much as you like as long as you aren't getting sick every month and feel rested between sessions
- Eat well most of the time, stress less about the time you don't- it happens, move on.
- Do yoga, meditate, walk, stretch. sing, laugh, dance, nap, veg, read....whatever your 'tune out' is, do it often....but try to keep it screen free (Doh!)
So in a nut shell, if you can do some or all of these, then you are well on your way to getting that balance and feeling and looking like a person who is winning at life.